The End

July 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Stage 21 – 26 July

I think it was a quite excellent Tour. Plenty of action most of the time. Some new faces. Some bad events too. My fantasy teams did horribly, maybe the worst I have ever done. My guesses for the winners of stages on one forum were as bad as they have ever been in years. But I had a great time as a spectator. And as a writer. But it is over now. Until next year.

Maybe one day I will write a summary, but actually I doubt it. I need to work mostly on filling the post-Tour void, usually takes about a week or so.

Last word from a forum I am on. My choices for categories invented by someone else.

Best Rider – Sagan, and also most interesting “personality”

Sprinter – Greipel

Climber – “The young French climbers”, who can win or lose dramatically on any mountain stage.  Rolland, Barguil, Bardet, Vuillermoz, Pinot … and maybe that guy Porte.

Young – Quintana, but I wish … he would attacks more confidently when he gets older.

Team – Sky from the rich teams.  MTN or AG2R from the “poor”.

Aggressive – Jalabert.  Consistently negative attitude toward Sky and Froome, not cool for a commentator on TV.  

Disappointment – Contador or Nibali, even though I love them both.

Domestique – Geraint Thomas, to exhaustion

Stage – There were several, I really can’t choose.

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Stage 20 – Goodness, Thibaut wins.

July 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Another brilliant stage. I loved it. I watched it all the way through, although I did take a break to wash the lunch dishes, when they were riding down the valley. Seems like I have seen them in that valley ten times before, and nothing much ever happens. The break won! That is, Thibaut was in the break and he won. Very happy for the lad. Like several of these new French riders, he has great possibilities, but not enough consistency and discipline. But he has a bit of time, and winning stages is not to be laughed at. Although the overall performance was less impressive than last year, one quarter of the top 20 were French, 9-10-14-16-18, not bad at all. You could even say “nearly one third of the top 18 were French”.  Quintana finally made a serious attack that stuck. Maybe he was feeling better and stronger, maybe Froome was worn out from all the pressure of the yellow jersey. Too bad they aren’t both in good form at the same time, we might get some kind of very powerful race. Even as it was, it was really excellent. The right guy won the Tour. In fact, other than Nibali getting an awkwardly timed puncture, we might have ended up with the top three being three of the big four. As it was, the Top Four ended with only Valverde depriving them of the 1-2-3-4 finish their label suggested before the Tour. And the consensual top favourite of the Four did win.

In fact, none of the jersey winners were surprising really. Looking back at one of my cycling forums and the choices we made before the race, Froome was not a surprise, nor was Sagan, nor was Quintana. Admittedly some thought a rider other than the winner of the Tour would have picked up the mountains jersey, so Froome winning that was a minor surprise. But even there, Froome was picked by some. The average prediction for the various jerseys was nearly 3 out of four. Having said that, the various stages provided some very fine racing, even if he end result was somewhat expectable. We really didn’t know about the mountains jersey or the yellow jersey until the last racing stage. That is not bad. In fact it is very good. On the other hand, the top two in the mountains jersey were also the top two in the tour. Not very interesting and indicating that once again, obviously, you have to be a top climber to win the Tour. AND no other rider took much interest in the jersey itself and if they did (J-Rod and Bardet) they weren’t even as good at executing jersey winning moves as the GC guys, who had utterly no intention of winning the jersey. The top two just won the mountains competition as a side effect of outriding nearly everyone on important mountain stages.

There were enough attacks from various riders to keep me happy for sure. I might have even been on the edge of my seat for about 20 minutes or so. Overall I am quite happy with the Tour. One of the better ones of the last twenty years. I hope they all come back next year.

I am a bit tired tonight as I missed my nap watching the whole stage. I also went out to an apero type thing immediately after the show. So tonight you get very little, even though it was a great stage on a mythic climb. See you tomorrow, to see who wins on the Champs.

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Stage 19 – Bardet does it

July 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Pretty good stage today. They wandered around the same area they have been in for two days. Looking for hills to climb. They doubled back twice, nice map of the stage they invented. I looked up the very first climb of the day, Col de Chaussy, in my 2009 atlas of France. It was clear, there was no road after the top of the climb. And yet, 6 years later it was newly paved and ready for racing. I can see how they find new roads every year, partly because the French are not only keeping up the old roads to a degree only a cyclist can appreciate, but they are making new surfaces on old roads. Very impressive. I think that in terms of attacks per kilometre, that first climb must be close to number one. Very much pleasure watching before I nipped off for my nap. What are the biggest surprises today? The biggest was the complete failure of Geraint Thomas. No idea exactly why, but he dropped from a quite enchanting fourth place to 15th having lost 22 minutes and riding in with a group containing, Sagan, Uran, Hesjedal, Rodriguez and an impressive list of riders. If there is any day when he is needed, it will be tomorrow. Hope he is well enough to help out. The stage winner is a slight surprise, but a welcome one. Great to see Nibali attack from a bit of a distance and keep it together for the victory. Rolland attacked from even further out, but simply didn’t have the legs, although the idea was not that bad. Second again must be disappointing. I must admit I don’t like the guy much, partly because he is constantly making faces, as if he is the only guy on earth suffering. Must have learned it from Voeckler, whom he idolises. Nibali has not saved his Tour, but he has gone some way toward it. He has one day to pick up 1.19 on Valverde and he can make the podium. That would, unless something happens, make the pre-race predictions of the Big Four almost accurate in the end. Three of the four on the podium. It won’t tell the full story though, not really a weeks long to and fro battle really. Rodriguez began with aims to earn the spotted jersey, but failed exactly as did Thomas. In the end, a wee surprise that Bardet is wearing the tunic. I have noticed that both Bardet and Rolland tuck into an aerodynamic position without being equally distributed or symmetrical on the bike. They are off balance. I imagine this is to preserve their male organs from damage, but why are they the only ones that do this on the descent? The rest tuck in symmetrically. Today they went past the town where the Opinel knife was invented and talked to the nephew of the inventor. Their “personality of the day” interviews. They are those famous ones with the wooden handle, the ring that fixed the blade … oh, Google it. Many people love them, I see no point in them and have a Laguiole knife, the same one for 25 years. Noticed that in the sprint for the line, BOTH Bardet and Pinot beat Valverde. Normally he can out-sprint nearly anyone, so I have no interpretation, except that he was very tired and it was a very hard stage. I see that Bardet is three points in front of Froome for the mountain jersey. That essentially means that Bardet has to finish ahead of Froome on both the big climbs tomorrow, including Alpe d’Huez. There might be some other way he can win the jersey, like once place behind Froome if they finish fifth and sixth or something, but I can’t be bothered to figure it out. I suppose it will all depend on whether Quintana attacks. If he does, I doubt that Bardet can follow Quintana and probably Froome can more or less follow him. But in any case, Bardet gets to wear the jersey for a day and while climbing the Alpe. Bardet has been a pretty impressive rider, although he has also lost tons of time here and there. A little more experience, and riding a bit more consistently, like Quintana and he will do very well. He is a good descender, up there with Sanchez, Cancellara, Nibali, Sagan and the very best. A day rich in incident, most of which I have not mentioned. A pleasure to watch. Just noticed the top five have all won a Grand Tour. If not a first, then not a common event.

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Stage 18 – Cocorico, Bardet

July 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Now that was a rather entertaining couple of hours. More like that please. Admittedly in terms of explosions from the big Four or Five, we were a little less than satisfied. Not a perfect stage for bold attacks, but they did try to get rid of Froome, but once again, just could not do it. Contador made an effort. Quintana is waiting for the next two days. Nibali made an effort. Even Valverde did, but frankly they had no chance to dump Froome and the Sky lads who were left. Must say that Geraint Thomas should be allowed loose once in a while. Maybe now that Porte will leave for BMC next year, they can give him at least a couple of week long races for himself.

So, as most expected, there was a break, a rather large one. But ticking off each rider as they appeared, the Sky directors decided to let them go. Bardet was the only guy in the top ten, and even then some considerable time behind, so it was harmless. Mollema was up front guarding his place, but the break once again won the stage. Although I thought they would be caught when they reduced the gap to less than three minutes. But no luck. Mind you, none of the top guys were willing to risk a wild descent to move up one place, or cut a gap by one minute. Bardet on the other had, was going for gold. I should think we will now know him as a great descender from now on. We will suspect he might win any stage with a long tricky descent at the end.

One small note. I have been watching the climber Louis Meintjes, from the MTM team, first time in the Tour. He was picked by some as a possibility for a big “revelation”. Yesterday he finished last, on his own, “au courage” as they say around here. Not his Tour really, but don’t forget he was the fifth guy in the break that won in Bretagne, and he will appear again. He didn’t start today. Next year maybe.

That little climb that I have never heard of before, the Lacets de Montvernier is totally excellent looking. It is like something created on a basement sized cycling table, to look like some kind of archetype. I love it. Reminds me of the Stelvio. In case you missed it, others also agree.

So in the end, we had the super descent of Bardet, and his victory. Rolland tried to catch him, but failed. And although the stage unfolded over a long period, with plenty of interest, not much happened in terms of the GC. Pretty much the same as before. The next two days “should” reveal more. The mountains jersey is still not a prize that anyone seems to be trying to win, as such. In that sense it is a competition with a bit of life left in it. The next two days we will see everyone who cares about it trying to get into the break. I have no idea who is going to take the jersey in the end. No idea at all. Although I can imagine a mano-a-mano with Bardet and J-Rod duking it out on some climb. My money is on J-Rod. I suppose Pauwels has a free hand, and maybe even Fuglsang might be set loose, or might try a break with Vincenzo.

Check out the gap between Sanchez and Pinot in 15th and 16th spot. 21 minutes! I wonder if that sets any records.

By the way, I missed the after stage show to take the cat to the vet. So I missed a few good stories.

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Stage 17 – Simon who?

July 22, 2015 2 comments

This was a very fine stage. I was a little bit disappointed at first, and then I managed to embrace it all. Geschke was not a climber, was not competing for any jersey. Personally I had no real feeling for him at all. He was in a huge break that none of the big hitters cared about, with a gap of ten or more minutes. Quite unknown, although not really without a victory in his life and a perfectly respectable rider. Then I realised (I did know this before) that it was the finest day of his cycling life, he said so. Good impression on TV. He was so happy. The rest of his career is assured. He did make the attack from the break at about the right time. Good descent, way better than Pinot who was pursuing him to try to win the stage. He kept going up a not terribly hard last climb. He actually deserved to win. Even a close pursuit by Talansky, also desperate to do something notable, failed to dent the wonderful win for this guy who not a single living soul would have picked for the stage. One of the many things the Tour (and life) is all about.

But of course there were minor tragedies. Tejay retiring in tears. Kwiatkowski the same. They had replays on the “after show”. I mean, it actually is really sad. They are just lads who can ride bikes well. Very upsetting. Imagine getting on the bike after a rest day, and then … no legs. Tejay in third as well.

Of course Thibaut crashing, fairly predictable. My wife knew there was danger when she saw him take the corners so badly, compared to Geschke, much less the others descending like Froome following Nibali, Contador and Valverde easily and comfortably. I think Pinot has to restrict himself to stage victories where it is a summit finish. He can climb like a dream. But a mental and physical tragedy in the making over the next years, if he tries to win the Tour. He even spent time learning to time trial and “descend”. It is just not in him, he has a flawed character for a champion.

Staying on the same topic, the French climbers Bardet and Barguil are showing some flashes that one day will turn into some dramatic climbing victories over the next decade. Maybe tomorrow. They are very good. They have the character too. Good interview with Barguil on the descent to the busses after the finish, From the motorcycle with a hand held mic pointed toward him. He was lovely and smooth, riding next to the moto, had a bike handling style and an attitude that was very attractive. He will go somewhere for sure. Smart, good smile. We already know Bardet. Another serious rider. Aiming high.

Gallopin is another one I like. He has, as everyone thought he would, faded a bit in recent days. But he shows some incredible talent, getting better all the time. Capable of wining any race on a given day. And he interviews very well. They asked him about Froome’s data. He was very straightforward, supporting Froome directly. He said they have data exactly like that all the time, there is nothing unusual about it, it is just normal data generated by a very good professional cyclist. Until I hear otherwise, I am going to believe him.

Then there is Sagan. I am pretty sure he will come out of the Tour with the highest popularity rating of any rider. That goes for the peloton, and for the fans and writers. No one seems to think he is doping, no one says a word. They just think he is a terribly good bike rider with a strong personality and some multilingual skills that are improving fast. He got in the break, as usual. NO break could form so quickly that he could not bridge the gap. Then he climbed a couple of hills with pretty much everyone else. All this, I suppose, to sweep up some points at the intermediate sprint which was way into the stage. Then at the sprint he finished third. Picked up a few points, but I guess he was just not greedy. None of his green jersey opponents would pick up a point, they can’t ride the first half or more of a mountain stage with the leading break. So he just rolled through. Weird. Most riders would have won the sprint and gobbled points. Sagan has a strange mixture of class and bad boy. More interesting than most.

Notes from interviews with Rolland. He took four sentences to say he just could not keep up on the last hill. He really is not the brightest cyclist in the peloton. He talked as if he was in awe of the great champions, which he obviously thought he would never be. He was not at all like Gallopin, Bardet, Barguil, Vuillermoz, even Pinot. I think what Pierre has to do is give up any GC ambitions and simply try to catch a lucky break on every mountain stage. A perpetually possible stage winner, maybe three or four more in his career. Which is still pretty impressive.

They put on a bit of a little show for the 40th anniversary when Thevenet rode away from Merckx, caught Gimondi and won the stage. And the Tour. Showed the footage. Pretty dramatic. The only equivalent this year would be if someone dropped Froome and he never did well in another Tour. But even then, Froome is not at the end of his career during which he won 5 Tours and was the greatest cyclist in human history. But it was the last Tour Merckx ever rode, when Thevenet dropped him. They do that kind of thing tastefully, the French TV people. Thevenet almost looked like he was tearing up watching the video. Saw Felice Gimondi, whom I have seldom actually watched. That guy had class and style.

Note the team competition, without me explaining exactly how they calculate it. Bloody second place is MTN Qhubeka, the African first timers. I mean! Incredible that. I never pay attention to the team standings normally. But normally an invited team is never in second place. Well, I don’t remember it anyway. Chapeau!

They do a thing on TV where they find two “original” characters on the route of the Tour. Like the guy who owned the field where Lance went cross country. Today is was a paddle champion from the area. She had fine muscle definition, massive strong legs, and talked sagely about her sport. The other guy was the mayor of somewhere nearby. He was on the podium with Merckx and Thevenet that year. One of the guys they shake hands with. Voila. That’s it. I watch that sort of thing when I can.

As far as the standings, Tejay’s exit left third place open, so there are two Movistar riders running a few minutes behind Froome. They better do something or I am going to think they are wusses. But sadly, I guess if I were realistic, they will both consolidate their position in the next days and then be happy to be on the podium. The optimistic happy side of me wants one of them to attack. I doubt that Nibali can, I just don’t think he has it this year. Contador might try to win a stage now, but he is no threat at all after his crash, and bike change with Sagan. Sagan is 1.82 and Contador is 1.76. Must have been a bit tricky those last few k. Thomas and Contador are more than two minutes behind Quintana and Valverde. Today at the end, there were the top three plus Nibali riding up the last bit together. Attacks aplenty, Froome brings them back. This scenario might be repeated more than once during the next days. Be nice if one attack succeeded. Or else at a propitious moment, Froome just rides away from them all, except maybe Quintana.

I say nothing about all the controversy about data collection and interpretation. I have no interest of as serious sort. I am a former empirical social scientist. Data is always difficult to define, to collect, and to interpret. Clearly this is the case with bike data too, but I really don’t care. Glad Barguil is in the top ten. I think he is ready to make a move. A stage and top ten is really really good for a first time Tour rider. He has class, that boy. The French are ready for the next three days!

Bravo Uran. He is on one of my teams and has done diddly so far. Speaking of which Kruisjwik also earned the first points on another team. So I think it was an unusually good day for me on the Fantasy Front, I will check later. The two Eritrean climbers were 14th and 16th today. Would it be cool if they did something? They like getting in breaks. Anyone think Uran might do something?

Near as I can tell, the spotted jersey is still up for grabs. The last two stages have the most points. So far, I would say it is obvious that no one wants to ride for it. Froome is the best climber, he has the most points. Likely to win a few more too. Rodriguez won two stages, so he has some big points. But these are “incidental” points. None of them were gained by wanting to win the jersey itself. So if not tomorrow, we will soon see if anyone wants to win it, or just leave it to whoever wins the last two stages. The mountains jersey is the only one which is not already won (unless something unexpected and bad happens).

Last note. The mayor of Digne was on TV and the thing she talked most about was a Tibetan wise woman who lived her town. She was quite proud of Alexandra David-Neel.

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Stage 16 – Ruben Plaza also beats Sagan

July 20, 2015 Leave a comment

It was not a big surprise that a break got away, and then toward the end, one rider got away. There had been much speculation as to who would be in the break. I guessed Uran and was wrong. I might have guessed Gallopin, but he seemed to be a bit off colour today. But I doubt if anyone really figured that Ruben Plaza, the Lampre rider from Spain was going to be the one rider who managed both the original break and the break from the break for victory. It will make his career. I never quite know how to take the victory of a journeyman cyclist, with doping connections that never amounted to much. I guess if I were Spanish I might be easier with this, but I am not. I suppose luck plays a crucial part, and I should simply accept it.

Sagan made it into the break, wining the intermediate sprint with no other green jersey copetitor in sight. He was utterly determined to win his stage. However, nobody wanted to work with him to escape the break, since they would just get whupped at the finish. No one would really let him get away easily, since they all wanted to keep in touch with the win. So his only strategy was to get to the top of the last climb with the climbers, and then make a wildly risky and ultra quick descent. He is one heck of a bike handler. But he did not have enough time to catch Plaza, and so took his sixteenth Tour de France second place, and his fifth of this year. Since he won the intermediate sprint as well as second on the stage, it is now impossible to lose the green jersey, if he finishes the race. I am sure he will be involved heavily in the final sprint on the Champs, but he might do some of the intermediate sprints during the stages in the Alps. That contest is pretty much over. Not quite mathematically though. It is not really over until the race ends.

The French are slowly working their way back, trying to save their Tour. They are now in 10th, 11th, 12th,15th, 19th, and 20th. Pretty good compared to many of the recent years. Although I should add that 10th is 11 minutes off the pace and 20th is 36 minutes back. Each of those riders have four stages to make a big move, and gain enough time to enter the top ten. It won’t be like last year, but it will still be moderately respectable. I look for at least one of the French climbers to make a big move in the next days. In fact, today, Barguil made a rather young, inexperienced and memorable move on a rather sharp curve. In fact, it was a move that might have altered the Tour. He obviously didn’t know about the curve, and tried to go past riders on the inside, but it was so sharp a curve, he just rode right into Geraint Thomas, and pushed him off the road into a telephone pole and over a little slope. It looked horrible, his head actually hit the pole. But Geraint only lost a handful of seconds and is still in sixth place. He got up, and rode to the end without any obvious problems.

One thing we can expect is that some rider will make a big break in an attempt to gain enough points to win the mountains jersey. They will have to be good, since Froome could carry it all the way to Paris simply by riding fast up the remaining climbs that end a stage. Personally I hope there will be a bit of a battle lasting all four days. But I already said that.

That crash and Sagan’s break neck descent to take second were the two main events of the day. The riders passed the curve where Beloki crashed andArmstrong rode across a field to avoid hitting him. In fact, they interviewed the guy who owns the land and who raises goats on that corner. Such a strange event, the Tour. Nothing much changed today. I think all the big teams were really happy to just ride along today, take a good rest day tomorrow, and then a few dozen of them will duke it out in the Alps. I can already feel the end of the Tour coming closer.

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Stage 15 – Greipel takes three

July 19, 2015 Leave a comment

I am starting to feel a bit sorry for the other sprinters. Kristoff and Degenkolb have nothing. Bouhanni got nothing and left. Coquard has had near misses. Sagan must be the finest almost winner in Tour history. Cav got one, messed up others, was expecting much more I am sure. At this rate he is never going get more Tour stage victories than Hinault. There is only one sprint stage left. To ride it, all the contestants must first go through tomorrow’s stage, the rest day, and three stages in the higher mountains. I hope they all make it. Greipel was really not supposed to win THREE stages. He has had an unquestionably excellent Tour. Sagan once again got in the break and took 20 points more for the green jersey. He only got 18 for finishing fourth today, so only 38 points. Greipel got 50 for the stage, and takes over the green jersey. Since Sagan is bound to sneak a few points on intermediate sprints that maybe Greipel can’t reach easily (say, over a hill), then it is most likely that whoever does really well on the Champs, will win the jersey. Nice ending. But since for a sprinter, winning on the Champs is the greatest treasure, all the sprinters are totally motivated anyway. Basically it is for Sagan to lose. He needs to win (or do better than Greipel) a few intermediate sprints and then hug the wheel of Greipel on the Champs. Pretty much over. Degenkolb and Cav are done. Maybe Cav got dropped today because his morale dropped, and he is simply taking it easy until Sunday.

We are pretty much where we were some time ago. Froome is 3+ minutes ahead of Tejay and Quintana, 4+ minutes ahead of Valverde, Contador and Thomas. Everyone else is 6 minutes behind or more. Obviously “something might happen” (a euphemism for anything bad and unexpected), but normally it is unlikely that any but the named riders have an outside chance to win the Tour. Normally. So either we have abnormal events or Froome wins the Tour. I suppose we could also wonder passionately if anyone will actually try to win the spotted jersey. I hope so, otherwise Froome will have BOTH of them at the end.

I am stunned that Tony Gallopin is still in the top ten. If he stays there after the Alps, the French will have something to be happy about, at last. Mind you, Barguil, Rolland and Bardet, while disappointing in many ways, are still in the top fifteen. If any of them attempt a big ride and succeed, they would vault into the top ten. If you are French you have better chances to be happy in the near future, than if you were an anti-Froome fan. Things is, pedalling, Froome is simply the strongest guy in the field. Hard not to give a little respect for that.

My optimistic self wants there to be attacks by anyone at all in the top six, every day, more than once. Froome, Thomas and Porte will have to follow them all. That could be interesting. But the problem is that maybe only Quintana can ride up a hill faster than both Froome and Thomas this year, this week. They seem able to follow anyone else in the top ten. Enough, no point is speculating about how I might have some exciting hours in front of the telly. They made a good route, ready for the riders to make it truly memorable. Exciting stuff maybe, high, pointy, rocky mountains.

As far as other items of interest, both my favourite and an outsider for the sprint stage, the guys I would have bet on, given the constraints of choice, got dropped. Cav and Demare. Zero today.

My visitors were here until after a delightful, long lunch at a wee local cafe. I might get back into total obsession with the Tour tomorrow, certainly by Wednesday, when it kicks off. Having said that, I do have some existing social obligations and things to do. The kale I have been nursing is doing well enough so far. And keeping up with Greece! Things keep happening in normal life of course, but these days it seems like things are happening more in places I hardly know anything about. Although I have read Nikos Kazantzakis and had two holidays in Greece. Don’t KNOW a single Greek person.

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